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Year After Deadly Explosions, Gas Leak Forces Evacuations In Lawrence

Police and fire personnel investigate a gas leak along South Broadway in Lawrence on Friday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Police and fire personnel investigate a gas leak along South Broadway in Lawrence on Friday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A gas leak forced evacuations at nearly 150 homes and businesses in Lawrence early Friday morning, just about a year after deadly gas explosions and fires rocked the community and two others.

Speaking at a news conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker called the leak an isolated incident and said there were no reported injuries. He said the state Department of Public Utilities is investigating the leak.

Mayor Dan Rivera said that most affected residents would be able to start returning to their homes after 3 p.m. Friday, but that some residents on certain streets would have to wait until gas service is safely restored.

At an earlier news conference, Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty said the department responded to a call for a high pressure gas leak at 3:15 a.m.

The affected area was around South Broadway between Andover and Merrimack streets.

Mark Kempic, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, said the leak was from a new pipeline that was installed last year. The utility shut off gas in the affected area and went door-to-door to check that no gas had gotten inside homes, Kempic said.

National Grid cut off power to customers in the area as a precaution, at the request of Lawrence Fire Department. Most of that service has been restored.

The leak comes about a year after Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were hit by a series of gas explosions and fires that killed one person and displaced thousands of others. This week, a report by the National Transportation Safety Report blamed Columbia Gas' “weak engineering management” and failure to use adequate protections as the cause of the explosions.

This time around, there were no fires and explosions.

Gov. Charlie Bakes addresses the media during a press conference in Lawrence. At left is Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Mark Kempic; at right is Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Gov. Charlie Bakes addresses the media during a press conference in Lawrence. At left is Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Mark Kempic; at right is Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Still, officials expressed frustration on behalf of Lawrence residents.

"I am enormously frustrated that the people of Lawrence are having to go through yet another example of a failure somewhere in the gas system," Baker told reporters, according to NBC10 Boston.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, whose 3rd Congressional District includes Lawrence, said: “With the memory of last year’s deadly disaster still fresh, Columbia Gas owes our community a detailed explanation of how this new section of pipeline has already failed."

The Red Cross set up a shelter at Arlington Middle School for affected residents.

The evacuations canceled classes Friday at the Wetherbee School and Lawrence Catholic Academy.

Separately, students were dismissed from Lawrence High School after "an anonymous report of a threat of a potential school shooting," police said in a statement posted to Facebook.

With reporting by WBUR's Newscast Unit, Laney Ruckstuhl and Benjamin Swasey

Evacuees enter the shelter set up at Arlington Middle School in Lawrence. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Evacuees enter the shelter set up at Arlington Middle School in Lawrence. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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